ICTs as a Tool for Accessibility

Out of the 1985 Maitland Report, the ITU identified the fundamental importance of ICTs, especially telephone access for social and development access for uses such as the need for bankers to assess credit, farmers to find the best price, and general back and forth communication. In the report, they called the lack of ICTs in developing countries the “missing link” for development. In framing the importance of ICTs in this manner, the report was troubling in that it saw the developed world as having it right without taking into account developing world-specific solutions, opening up the potential for leapfrogging or the skipping of important steps.

In response, NTIA’s Falling Through the Net document better outlined that people are falling through the net even in developed countries, looking at the US where huge discrepancies existed between rural and urban areas, old and young people, and based on education level, race, and ethnicity. The document outlined the key discrepancies while in response to the Maitland report noting that the developed world does not in fact have all of the answers.

Finally, in response, WSIS was convened organized by the ITU and convened by the UN first in 2003 and again in 2005 with the goal (and eventual results) of seeing less of a developed dominated process while still reinforcing that ICTs are critical to development. At WSIS + 10, ten years later, a significant amount of progress was identified regarding an increase in accessibility to telecommunications in development.

In tying ICTs to sustainable development, we don’t have to look far as there is a direct connection between WSIS, the SDGs, NUA, CRPD, and WSIS + 10, including an SDG matrix that outlines ICT related goals including a desire to make these conferences more accessible and making the internet more accessible for persons with disabilities. While there is still a long way to go for full inclusion of persons with disabilities, the opening of a conversation on how ICTs can be used for increased involvement such as through the use of screen readers on conference websites or opportunities for remote participation for those physically unable to navigate the conference space (for example by being unable to take a wheelchair and medical equipment on a plane), we see a crucial first step in bridging the inclusion and access gap with the help of ICTs.